UNICEF India in partnership with the Indian Institute of Human Development (IHD) today launched a study titled:‘Assessing Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on the Socioeconomic Situation of Vulnerable Populations – through CommunityBased Monitoring.’ The study was launched in the presence of the UN Resident Coordinator in India, Ms. Deirdre Boyd, UNICEF India Representative Dr. Yasmin Ali Haque, Director, IHD, Professor Alakh N. Sharma and senior representatives from the government, UNICEF and IHD. It was followed by a panel discussion participated by senior representatives from the Government, academia, policy advisors, UNICEF and IHD.
The study was designed and rolled out in partnership with 13 Civil Society Organizations and its network of 300 community volunteers living in the 300 locations, where the study was conducted. The data was collected in four rounds between May and December 2020, covering 12 districts in seven states.
The study assessed the immediate social and economic costs of the pandemic, lockdown and post-lockdown challenges faced by vulnerable communities such as urban slum dwellers, rural communities and childrenin the country.It brought to attention the impact on livelihoods, food availability, health, nutrition, education, and access to basic public services such as health, nutrition,and social protection schemes by vulnerable groups in 2020. Though this report is being released now, yet the lessons learnt from the study would be useful for future in handling humanitarian emergencies, especially around access to social services by the marginalized families.
Speaking at the launch of the study, Ms. Deirdre Boyd, the UN Resident Coordinator in India said, “Using Community Based Monitoring, this study provides an excellent overview on how the pandemic affected the lives and livelihoods of the most vulnerable populations, including rural communities and urban slum dwellers. We know that data driven governance based on the lived experiences of those most affected can drive real progress on national priorities and the Sustainable Development Goals.”
“The pandemic exposed the precarious situation that many marginalized groups, including the urban poor,face during humanitarian crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Dr Yasmin Ali Haque, Representative, UNICEF India. “The CBM has proved to be an essential tool to provide rapid assessment during the acute phase, for agile programmatic response as well as to support policy decisions to reduce the current and future shocks due to widened inequalities. It also highlights the opportunity for strengthening data-ecosystems to capture humanitarian situations in the country.”
Professor Alakh N Sharma, Director, IHD said,“The pandemic containment measures exposed the livelihood-centric vulnerabilities of the urban poor in particular. The enormous scale of job losses in the urban sector coupled with social security handicaps that ensued as an immediate aftermath of the lockdown, rendered severe blows to the economically marginalized populace. The economic recovery has been rather slow for the deprived communities and call for even stronger measures to spring back to pre-lockdown levels.”
Key findings from the report:
· Due to poorer quality of jobs available post pandemic, that not only pay less but are not in commensuration with the skill possessed by the worker, most families experienced a decline in wages and persistence of lower incomes, especially in rural India.
In June-July, joblessness among the families in the cohort was 26% in urban and 20% in rural areas. However, it declined to pre-pandemic levels of 8-9% by December 2020.
In December, 62 % of those working under MGNREGS got timely wage payment, an improvement from 41% in October-November 2020.
Access to treatment for COVID-19 in August-September improved in urban areas vis-à-vis that in rural areas.
Access to government facilities for pregnancy-related services post pandemic related lockdown,improved positively in August-September and December. In December, access to MCP/JachchaBachcha/ Mamta Card (December) was higher in rural areas (94%) than urban (82 %).
While the availability of health services for pregnant women improved yet, just around a third of the women who were aware, received maternity benefits as given under the Government scheme.
Child immunization was adversely impacted more in urban than in rural areas.In August-September 2020, the child immunization situation improves. In December 2020, 81% of rural mothers and 71 % urban mothers of less than one-year old child reported that they have immunized their children.
· During first wave of the pandemic, the impact of the lockdown was more severe in urban than in rural areas. Urban infrastructure for delivery of social services needs strengthening
· During the last phase of CBM data collection in December 2020, 33% of the mothers of 6 to19 year old children informed they have heard or seen cases of violence against women/children in their habitation.
· 35% of the main earning members reported that the hours of engagement in domestic chores by the children has increased as compared to pre-pandemic.
· In December 2020, around 68% of the main earning members confirmed that their children who are engaged in domestic chores usually spend more than an hour daily on these chores.
Community volunteers in the CBM mechanism reported about low awareness level and low access to some major social protection schemes among respondents, particularly in the urban locations.
The CBM mechanism covered seven states -Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Telangana and Uttar Pradesh. On an average, each round of data collection covered around 6,000 families. Rural districts were selected based on the presence of a large number of home returnees (families who migrated back home after the lockdown) and vulnerable population. Selection of urban districts were based on the existence of large slum habitations and COVID infection level.
The data were analyzed by the Institute for Human Development, in collaboration with UNICEF, and the findings were presented in the mentioned report.